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I need some advice. After several months of interviews and work, I secured a faculty position at a good business school, which was a relief since jobs are so hard to get around here. Everyone tells me I'm lucky to get such a good job since I'm coming right out of grad school.

It's been about two months since I took the job, and I've started to receive teaching allocations etc for the coming semester. I should be really excited and happy about all of this, but instead, every time I think about starting this new job, instead of excitement I just feel awful: afraid, nervous, like I'm making a huge mistake and I want to cry. I can't figure out why. I feel like I'm supposed to want this and I just don't feel positive about it. I worked so so hard to earn it but now it doesn't feel like a prize. I just have this overwhelming sense that I'm going to be absolutely miserable. I don't know if it's just about the B-school thing, or academia in general, or just because I'm nervous about being a real adult for the first time, or because I know people who have had a hard time with teaching etc, but I'm confused that I can't tell these apart.

Am I naive for thinking that I should be excited and overjoyed about this job? Does it mean I'm a normal academic that I feel dread, or a terrible academic that I don't see it as an opportunity (besides the great salary)? Does it just make me a privileged a-hole that I'm expecting to feel joy but I don't? I would appreciate any words of advice, your experience with before job jitters/dread and whether it gets better or whether I may be making a huge mistake? So confused!

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I have no experience to reassure you with, but don't be scared. Its okay to be worried and have jitters when making changes to your life! The first few weeks will be adjustments but then you will start to figure things out and have more confidence! Don't worry, go out there and do your best! Its not the end of the world if you don't end up liking it, but you should still give it a fair try! I've personally felt very worried about big decisions in my life... but it wasn't the end of the world when I made the wrong decision, I wouldn't have known if I didn't make it. Cheer up and best of luck! –  TheOneWhoPrograms May 23 at 12:20
    
I, too, wished I could have done more grad school and postdoc, but... that's not how it works. In any case, how you feel doesn't make you an a-hole, it would only be if you didn't work hard in your new position that you would be an a-hole. Good luck to you! –  Anonymous May 23 at 12:20
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"feel awful: afraid, nervous, like making a huge mistake and want to cry" - +1 for finding the exact words to describe the situation many of us find ourselves in during the time between making a big decision and finding out for sure if it was a good or a not-so-good one. - Just wait and see. From what you said,I cannot see why it shouldn't work out great for you. –  Hanno Binder May 23 at 13:34
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Imposter syndrome? –  TRiG May 23 at 14:00
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5 Answers 5

It's perfectly normal to feel the way you do. Part of it is likely fear of the unknown; part is fear of a new job with "adult" responsibilities; part of it might even be fear about whether you can do the job (the infamous Imposter Syndrome). Transitions are always a stressful time, and I don't think we give ourselves enough time to adjust.

This also reminds me of a survey that discovered that people who just got tenure are the unhappiest of all faculty. The similarity is in the striving for a prize that's difficult to get, and then getting it ! In both cases, there's an element of letdown, and "I did all this work for THIS ?"

One technique that I've found useful when dealing with these kinds of feelings is to try and focus on the concrete rather than the bigger picture: in your case, maybe focusing on logistics issues related to the transition rather than the bigger picture.

I've also found as a rule of thumb (both personally and with others) that it can take upto 6 months to feel some level of comfort in a new position. That's a long time.

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"it can take upto 6 months to feel some level of comfort in a new position" - And I'd like to add that, of course, every employer is well aware of this; no one will expect you to perform at the same level as the more experienced employees right from the start. –  Hanno Binder May 23 at 13:21
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For some people, it can take quite a bit longer than 6 months. –  JeffE May 23 at 13:46
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nice answer for a nice question. I've lived that two years ago and I would emphatize for "adult" responsibilities. you wanna cry because you know your freedom will change (in worse) a lot –  lesto May 23 at 13:58

When I was in grad school, I worked as a resident advisor in the grad student dorms, and a big chunk of my job was to be there for other graduate students when they needed help or someone to talk to. My supervisor taught me to ask "What are your concerns?" when people came to me to express that they were afraid or nervous about something. I was quite amazed to see how often that calmed them down, because it turned out that they rarely actually had any specific concerns. It's not that they actually believed that certain specific bad things would happen to them, they were just nervous about being in situations they were not familiar or comfortable with.

I'm saying this because I note that you don't mention any specific concern in your post. Instead I read the familiar vague feeling of being "afraid, nervous, like I'm making a huge mistake and I want to cry". So I want you to think about this question: "What are your concerns?"

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Is this step on the critical path towards your long-term goals? It's good to think 20 years ahead. If you stay on this track, in 20 years' time you will be senior faculty, have N students, M publications, P dollars, H ideas for publications, non-quantifiable collaborations and disagreements with most international colleagues working in your sub-sub-field. Is this enough? Imagine this is now. Is this the best possible outcome for you? Most likely yes, because it is so for the majority. Then focus on the fact that you are on the right track.

If your dream is different or more specific, but it's necessary to have a faculty position for it, then keep working hard! Working hard is the only way to enjoy living to 100%!

Otherwise, revise your plan. Do you want two incompatible things? Then one has to give way. Don't let the path of least resistance dictate where you go. You are in control of your life, and this aspect was hard-earned by many generations of people who weren't, so don't throw it away too easily. Also, nobody really deeply cares about what steps you take to reach your goals, except you, so don't let the perceived 'opinion of others' dictate what path you take. However, the bigger the decision, the longer the cooling-off period before committing to it!

My best guess is that it is the reluctance people get when they are just about to spend a lot of energy on something. That should wear off over a few weeks after you dive in.

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"...non-quantifiable collaborations and disagreements with most international colleagues working in your sub-sub-field." What? –  Pete L. Clark May 24 at 16:05
    
@PeteL.Clark I was going to put a count on it, but that didn't make sense, so I wrote "non-quantifiable". –  Evgeni Sergeev May 25 at 4:42

Ok...

It may help you to know that

  1. Women are much more prone to this sort of feeling than men for no competence related reason at all. It's just that society had conditioned you more to doubt yourself, to try to be perfect, and generally to introvert more - which is often a good thing, but not in this particular case.

  2. Competent people are much more likely to worry about their competence than incompetent ones: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect

Both these things are irrational! Accept that you feel this way and then say: "So what? Frak it, I'm going to get up there and teach. I may not be perfect, but I'm going to make a solid plan and follow it, so rationally, nothing can go too far wrong. The students aren't idiots: if I miss something important, one of them will ask, and that will cue me to tell the others. This is landing a 747 or committing neurosurgery - there are plenty of opportunities to recover from my mistakes. Voices in my head, shut up already!"

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Why does this question have anything to do with women? The OP never mentions his/her gender. –  scaaahu May 24 at 10:05
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@scaaahu Presumably it's because the OP's profile pic shows two women. –  xLeitix May 24 at 10:23
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This answer might have been useful if it limited itself to the second bullet. The first bullet is mostly irrelevant to the question –  Suresh May 24 at 10:41
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@Skunkness Hermit crabs are also prone to it. Every time they plan to change shells, they get major panic attacks. –  mhwombat May 24 at 15:22
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RE: It's true I don't feel like I'm the best at my job, but I also worry that I'm not in love with it, or obsessively passionate about it like some people are. Let those problems take care of themselves down the road. As for being the "best at your job," you must have been the best amongst the qualified applicants, or they would have hired someone else. As for the passion that may or may not ignite, if it doesn't, you'll have time to find something else later in your career. Concentrate on doing a good job now, so you'll get stronger recommendations if you decide to go somewhere else. –  J.R. May 24 at 18:16

Skunkness, I hope you found the other answers helpful.

Do be honest, I do not find it normal that you feel like this at this point of time. And I think that one reason that you ask the question here is that you do not find it normal yourself.

In change management theory, I have learned that the first phase of a new challenge is normally excitement, even euphoria. The down phase comes some time after you started the new job, the moment when you find that - even if it was a really good choice you made - there are drawbacks, there's routine that you don't like and that there's a lot of work you still need to do before you really become excellent at the new job.

And it happens like this most of the time - I speak from personal experience, as well as watching other people on new assignments.

But that doesn't mean it must be like this. Still people are different.

I don't know if maybe women are different from men here, but I must admit that I immediately thought that you were female. And again sorry to say for all those who claimed gender has nothing to do with this problem: men and women are quite different in job behavior. I have supervised a lot of males and females, and there is a clear pattern: while men tend to overestimate their achievements, women underestimate them - cliche yes, but statistically true.

So maybe user15677 is quite correct with comment 1, and (s)he has made quite a point that it has nothing to do with your achievements and qualifications.

If user15677 is right, then you should not worry too much. This phase will pass. Look to cheer you up with something, pamper yourself a bit. Develop some routine you like - simple things like seeing where to get the best coffee at your new job, or maybe there's a nice place to take a stroll after lunch.

However, your current state could point to the fact that you are unhappy for some reason with your decision. I think you should ask yourself the following: are your feelings mostly connected with yourself? Then see this as a passing phase. You've done well, you have the job you wanted, and you are just a little exhausted.

If you find that these feelings are connected to certain details of the new job, then find out how you can improve these things.

Most important: you have a hard time behind you. You need some rest. Take your time now. Even if you find out that you made a bad choice - now is the time to collect energy. If you need to change your decision, give yourself some time first,

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